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Troops clash with MILF rebels in Zamboanga City

December 6, 2008 10:30am
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines – Government soldiers captured two suspected Moro Islamic Liberation Front rebels after a firefight in Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines, officials said Saturday.

Officials said at least three rebels arrived by boat at a Muslim enclave called Mariqui, but local residents tipped off the military about their presence and troops clashed with the gunmen.

The fighting lasted more than ten minutes until soldiers, led by Army Col. Santiago Baluyot, commander of the anti-terror task force, surrounded and captured two rebels.

There were no reports of casualties on the military side, said Army Lieutenant Steffani Cacho, a regional military spokesman. She said initial reports suggested the rebels were on a kidnap-for-ransom mission in Zamboanga City.

"This is positive developments on anti-kidnapping operations of the (military's) Western Mindanao Command," Cacho said.

Cacho identified the captured gunmen as Hassan Abejarin and Jay Alpad.

Baluyot said troops were still tracking down other rebels believed to still in Zamboanga City. "There is an operation going on. The rebels are planning to stage kidnappings-for-ransom in Zamboanga. We are interrogating the two captured rebels," he said.

He alleged that the two rebels are members of the MILF's Special Operations Group, blamed for the series of kidnappings and bombings in the southern Philippines.

Its leader Abdul Basit Usman is wanted by both the Philippines and the United States for his role on the spate of bombings in Mindanao.

The MILF has disowned Usman long ago, but the military insists that the terror leader is a member of the rebel group under the Bangsamoro Islamic Armed Force's 105th Base Command.

Washington offered up to $50,000 for information leading to Usman's apprehension under the Government Rewards Program.

"Abdul Basit Usman is a known terrorist with links to Jemaah Islamiyah and believed responsible for bombings in Mindanao in October 2006 that killed eight innocent civilians and left 30 others wounded. He is also implicated in a recent series of bomb attacks in Mindanao that killed seven and wounded 37 others," US authorities said.

The MILF is the country's largest Muslim rebel group fighting for a separate homeland in Mindanao. - Al Jacinto, GMANews.TV
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